Monday, January 19, 2009

Military Monday - What in the World is a Mission Report?

I was inspired by a post recently at GenBlog by Julie related to military terms. Reading her post took me back to about a year ago when I first entered the world of doing military research and how lost I felt in all the jargon. You can read Julie's post here.

I've written previous posts about my Grandfather, William Bellew's WWII military service. Luckily, I was blessed enough to have his original discharge papers folded tattered and torn as they were, available to me having been tucked away in a little box in my Grandmother's apartment. After finding these documents I wanted to know more, so where did I go? The National Archives of course? Admittedly, I didn't start there - wanting to seek out info from others who were familiar with what I was about to embark upon. I found a group website for his Bomb Group, signed myself up as a "member" and quickly typed a post to find out more. The response was incredible! Within two days my post had over 150 hits and more than 20 responses and I very quickly realized that I had a lot to learn about military jargon. For instance, one of the replies was:

"Flak in the target area was very effective, accounting for 30 aircraft being damaged. Aircraft 42-31449 landed at Beccles just short of Rougham due to major flak damage."

And another
"B-17G 42-31449 was from the 332nd BS and was flown by C. L. McDowell on this mission. He was leading the Low Squadron of the 94th 'A' Lead Group"

And another
"According to the July 29th 1944 94th BG 'Mission Formation Chart' Floyd N. Butler didn't fly on this mission. I have noticed though that he did fly on the mission the day before, July 28th, to the same target, Merseburg/Leuna. He led the 94th 'B' High Group in the 45th 'B' Combat Wing with Albert R. Waters in a 333rd BS aircraft"

.... Flak? what in the world is that? Who was McDowell? What was 333rd BS? What was a low squadron and a lead group? What are all those numbers for and where were Beccles and Rougham? I was quickly filled with many questions and thankfully I had come to the right place.

After gathering such info as what crew Granddad was assigned to :
Arriving from AAF Station #153 to the 94th BG, 19 Feb 1944 and further assigned to the 331st Squadron on 21 Feb 1944 :
1LT Floyd N. Butler (P) 0-790620
2Lt Earl E. Tjomsland (CP) 0-755791 KIA, 6 Oct 44
2LT Rodney L. Gunderson (B) 0-689462 KIA 6 Oct 44
2LT Vincent E. Bahl (N) 0-695850
S/Sgt John H. Callahan (748) 12031094
S/Sgt Roy G. Wander (757) 12207478
Sgt James T. Maloney (612) 32884631
Sgt Raymond V. Worthley (611) 39082043
Sgt Frederick R. Salvani (611) 32702044
Sgt William P. Bellew (611) 31210954

One of these guys quickly set out to find out if anyone from his crew was living. As a matter of fact one was, after calling this total stranger I found that Granddad wasn't flying with his regular crew that fateful day he was wounded, but had volunteered to go up with another pilot who was short a gunner (previous posts about this story are here and here) Mission reports they told me, we need the mission reports! What on earth is a mission report? Well, almost a year later - and it's been quite a journey, too much for this post; I've got them in my little hands. This is not light reading folks!

A Mission Report is just that, a report written about the mission flown that day for a particular Bomb Group. In my case, there are two mission reports written by the Operations Officers and reports or narratives written by the Lead Bombardiers for both A and B groups of planes flying on this mission that day. "That Day" being the day that my Grandfather was wounded. I really wanted to know who he was flying with and if any of that crew was still living!

The first two reports contain detailed information on what time the planes took off, what the target was, what formation was being flown (including chart of each plane by number and pilot), what time they passed the coast of England, what time they arrived on the coast of Germany, what time the target was reached, if the planes turned, and what time the "Bombs were away". If any planes left the formation due to damage, personnel injury, or malfucntion this was also noted. All of this info is in the first two pages.

Also included are several pages of plane formations, a malfunction and combat damage report (listing each plane with every little damage hole reported - more than 12 pages), a Group Navigator's report (detailing weather conditions and visibility and such stuff), a report from the Group Communications Officer listing such information as necessary for communication problems encountered during the misson or damage to communication equipment. If any planes aborted the mission there was a seperate sheet for each. There is a form that's completed showing that the gunners (3 on each plan) had been interrogated if there were any malfunctions in armament. There is a report showing how many guns were used (in total) and how many rounds were fired, and finally a photo and bomb plotting report, and photographs of the "target" area (copies are not very good). In all, there are more than 45 pages of information.

To get these reports, I had to know what date I wanted and what bomb group (his being the 94th). I ordered them through the National Archives website and they quickly replied with informaton for me about how many pages it was, the cost and the availability of the info. Once I placed the order (via check in the mail) it took about 3 weeks to get the info.

If you have an ancestor who was wounded, it could be of interest to get the mission report for the date of their injury. You may find some interesting facts if you can get through all the pages. These reports have helped me in two ways; First, Granddad's regular crew was not flying that day so he must've been with another crew as stated by the gentleman I spoke to during the summer. Second - there are two planes with damage details listed in this report that fit what we already know - one of them has been ruled out so it's possibly be the other... we're still trying to track down it's crew.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this. I had not realized how extensive NARA holdings on armed forces activities are, and since my Dad and his brother all served in various branches, there may be a lot of information of this type on their units.

  2. All I can say is WOW! I'm sure your work will give others the help and the push needed to find information on their military ancestors. Good job.